Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

February 25, 2010

Same-sex marriage topic of conversation during first legislative coffee

Other issues talked about included the state budget, government downsizing and reorganization and Honey Creek Resort State Park.

By Michael Schaffer - Managing editor

Words like marriage amendment, radical agenda and indoctrination were tossed out to Rep. Kurt Swaim, D-Bloomfied and Sen. Keith Kreiman, D-Bloomfield Saturday morning at the Chariton Valley Planning & Development Office in Centerville during the first legislative coffee for 2010.

Tolerance, moral values, religious liberty, dignity, accommodate and respect were spoken in return.

Plano Christian Church Pastor David Welch got the same-sex marriage conversation started when he grilled Swaim on the marriage amendment and the promise he claimed Swaim made last year to vote for it.

Swaim replied he couldn't remember making that promise, and if he had, it would have been done because last year a marriage amendment had a chance to come up for a vote. But not in this session.

"I'm telling you that there will not be a vote on the floor of either the House or Senate on the issue of reversing the Iowa Supreme Court decision," Swaim said.

So in the meantime, Swaim said, he has been spending time in this session on things that have a chance of success. Like a marriage conscience bill, also known as a religious liberty bill, which has bi-partisan support and would protect some from doing something they don't believe in, like performing same-sex marriages and promoting homosexual lifestyle in schools.

"And that's the point of my bill, is to protect that religious conscience," Swaim said. "With my bill, we can treat one another with dignity and respect and we can solve this issue."

Swaim said it was crucial to accommodate those who think differently about same-sex marriage.

"I respect any person who believes that marriage should be between one man and one woman. I believe in traditional families," Swaim said, then describing his intense love for his wife, Julie. "But by the same token I understand that there are people ... that say that they feel that same thing toward a member of the same-sex."

"Then call it a union. Call it something," Welch said. "But don't call it a marriage."

Kreiman said he supported a marriage amendment to the state constitution in 2006. Now, overturning the Supreme Court's 2009 decision to allow same-sex marriage would require passing a constitutional amendment in two consecutive legislative sessions and a vote of the people.

But Kreiman did imply that the court never made a law allowing same-sex marriage, something some people have already pointed out.

"Did they make the law? What they did was they overturned our law and they defined it one way," Kreiman said. "But there's nothing that a legislator can do or the governor can do, by themselves, to overturn the decision, or any decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, if it's based upon the Constitution that the court did."

But in some instances, particularly in criminal cases not based on the Constitution or statutory law, the Legislature has immediately passed a law changing an Iowa Supreme Court ruling.

"We do that all the time," Kreiman said. "Sometimes the court will make a very idiotic ruling. A ruling that's not very reasonable and many times we go back the very next year, the very next day sometimes, and we change it."

Kreiman said same-sex marriage is an emotional issue with people of high moral values on both sides. He pointed out he believed in marriage between one man and one woman and his votes reflect that belief.

Kreiman said he filed a "conscious bill" this session, one he believes could pass "constitutional mustard." And he has signed a petition to bring either his or Swaim's bill out of committee to the floor for a vote.

"So I've done all of those things and I'm not sure what else I can do except to continue to talk about the issue and continue to talk to the folks who don't want it," Kreiman said.

Swaim said various state and federal courts are making rulings on same-sex marriage based on an liberty interest that should not be subjected to a vote.

"You may think it's immoral that a person ought to have a liberty interest in terms of deciding who he or she wants to live with," Swaim said. "And so, I mean, if you think about it, there may be some religious things you wouldn't want to put up to a vote."

And yet the conversation wasn't over, as others implied the ruling was part of a radical agenda, would lead to indoctrination and threatens the fabric of society.

"They can still live together without marriage," the Rev. Reg. Higginbottom said. "They're pushing and that's the problem is, a radical agenda is being pushed and it will also go into our education systems and they'll want it taught in the education systems."

Swaim responded by pointing out his religious liberty bill, which has support of constitutional scholars, would protect both those who do not and those who do believe in same-sex marriage and want to live together.

"Your rights to religious liberty and the personal rights of people of the same sex to live together, that they are actually parallel rights," Swaim said. "They reinforce one another."

A third local pastor, who at first refused to be identified, said the issue is tearing at the fabric of society.

"This is not a manby-panby issue. This is the nuts and bolts of the fabric of our communities and of our society," he said.

And then key words like downsizing, budget cuts, government reorganization and Honey Creek Resort were also spoken during the little more than hour-long coffee attended by 23.

"So it comes to $270 million that we've cut from the budget," Swaim said. "We are making real cuts to the budget. And some of those will be painful."

Getting to $270 million required reorganizing state government and coordinating services, computer system and purchasing and the elimination of several boards and middle management personnel, Swaim said.

"And so we're doing things that we think will be positive ... but still there's a lot of heavy lifting left to do," Swaim said.

Despite the budget cuts and reorganization, Swaim said they plan to maintain their focus on education, jobs and a commitment to health care while leaving behind a balanced budget that does not raise taxes on the middle class. He said the state this year will spend less than it did last year and in 2007, when Republicans were in control of the House.

Swaim said government reorganization was a long time in coming.

"I think that this reorganization bill is one of the best pieces of legislation that has happened since I've been up there," he said. "Because it downsizes government and it makes it more efficient. It makes it more effective and eliminates some bureaucracies."

Kreiman said the state could do better if it adopted "performance-based budgeting."

"We don't say when a program is created, it's going to do A, B, C, D and E," Kreiman said while tapping the table top with each letter. "And then look at it again in a year or two or three and see if it did A, B, C, D and E. We still don't do that and we absolutely need to do that if we're going to continue to be well managed."

Kreiman said the Legislature also addressed fixes to the sex-offender law, streamlined departments to reduce the management to worker ratio and worked on a bi-partisan bill to ensure children have stable influences in their lives to include grandparents.

Both Kreiman and Swaim defended Honey Creek Resort State Park when Welch brought up the fact the park was losing money and has not brought business to this part of the county.

Kreiman said Honey Creek Resort is unique because it is the only state park required to pay its own way. All other state parks are subsidized and if Honey Creek needs to be subsidized, the state should do that.

"I think that there is a lot of people who recognized that this park is very, very advantageous to our county and to our area," Kreiman said. "And it has brought jobs already. It will bring in a lot more jobs. There will be a lot more development."

Swaim said Honey Creek Resort has been an economic positive for the entire state and should be appreciated and promoted.

"There are naysayers at the state level. But there is commitment at the state level to do this park," Swaim said. "And the destination park will be here 50 years from now, 100 years from now, 150 years from now."

The second and final legislative coffee is scheduled for Saturday, March 20.